I remember the day well. The high school girls were coming to my first grade class to select the cutest girls to compete for the coveted title of Little Miss Merry Christmas.
I was a tomboy. I had chosen to wear corduroy pants, a flannel shirt, and penny loafers. I had brushed my hair and shined the coins in my shoes. I was looking fine.
The only glitches were my oversized lips and the loss of my two front teeth. But that didn’t stop me from marching myself to the front of the classroom and smiling my heart out.
Snickers and lots of whispering rippled across the room when I took my place. Making matters worse was the “irritant” standing right beside me.
Her name was Debra Sue, and she was the class diva. Her momma had put her in a “stick-out” (crinoline) dress and poodle socks. She was wearing her Easter shoes. Bright red lipstick coated her lips. (I’m sure she had used the tester tube left by Miss Ann, the local Avon lady.)
Debra Sue’s hair was a mass of ringlets and bows, glued in place by Extra-hold Aqua Net. As we say in the South, “Her hair was jacked up to Jesus.” A Category Five hurricane couldn’t have ruffled her “do.” To make matters worse, she had all of her teeth.
Of course, she was picked to be in the pageant.
Something strange happened to me that day. I became more determined than ever to be “better.” I was motivated. Debra Sue was my first grain of sand.
My brother was helping with the pageant, and he told me they needed a fishbowl because the contestants were going to select questions out of it. I flushed my fish and cleaned up my fishbowl for the pageant.
The night of the pageant was magical. I sat on a broken chair on the front row of the old high school auditorium. I was mesmerized by the wannabe beauty queens as they glided across the stage, wearing Mike Benet empire waist gowns with matching shoes. My heart pounded as my fishbowl was brought to center stage. The big-hair girls each put their long, white-gloved hand into my fishbowl and retrieved a small slip of white paper.
That night irritated me enough to redirect my young mind. It was the beginning of something big, something special. A seed pearl began to form in my soul. I heard God say, “Jane, you will be doing this one day.”
Little did I know that seventeen years later, I would walk across the stage competing for one of the most prestigious titles of all, Miss America. Sometimes life isn’t fair, but those occasions can allow God to give us a holy nudge. Irritants can take our lives to the next level and actually plant dreams. And it all started with a girl who was my first irritant.
Columnist Ann Landers wrote, “If asked to give what I consider the single most useful bit of advice for all humanity, it would be this: Expect trouble as an inevitable part of life and when it comes, hold your head high, look it squarely in the eye and say, ‘I will be bigger than you. You cannot defeat me’.”1
The Bible says: Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything (James 1:2-4 NIV)
Here’s my paraphrase of that passage: You do not know who you are until you have to be what you think you are.
Thank you, Debra Sue. But I still don’t like you.
1 Wake Up and Smell the Coffee. Ann Landers. New York: Random House Value Publishing,
(Excerpted from Bury Me with My Pearls by Jane Jenkins Herlong, published by Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas. Used by permission.)
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Has someone in your life acted as an “irritant” that helped to shape you? We’d love to hear about it in the comments below!
Bury Me with My Pearls: Humor with a Spiritual Twist
by Jane Jenkins Herlong
Normal Price: $12.95 (print)
Amazon Price: $7.95
Professional humorist, singer and best-selling author Jane Jenkins Herlong finds the funny in dysfunction while entertaining folks with her comedy and singing heard on Sirius XM Satellite Radio and Pandora. From the tomato fields of her native Johns Island, South Carolina all the way to the runway of the Miss America Pageant, Jane’s contagious optimism helps audiences learn how to handle difficult life situations with a sense of humor and grace. Through original Southern stories and award-winning singing, audiences learn life skills dealing with stress to achieve more success. Jane travels across the country and has spoken in New Zealand and Germany. She is fluent in four languages: English, Southern, Northern and Gullah. Her story of overcoming being labeled dyslexic and other challenges gives audiences a recipe for balancing their own personal journey with humor and hope, and her book Bury Me with My Pearls: Humor with a Spiritual Twist was a Gold Medal Winner of the 2015 Illumination Book Awards.